Jesus said, you are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world. In both instances Jesus is telling us that our lives need to be a source of inspiration, hope, joy, peace and life to the people around us. Our lives need to make a positive difference in the world because both salt and light make a positive difference. Salt is essential for life and it was and still is used as a preservative and flavoring. So like salt, we are to help preserve life or keep life good and Godly but we are also to make it pleasant and enjoyable – our presence should add joy and love to the lives of others. A light brings hope in the darkness and it provides guidance and direction, but light is also essential for life and so again as a light to the world our lives need to bring hope but we also need to bring life to the lives of those around us and to the culture in which we live.
To be salt and light we have to be both present and visible. The only way we can make a difference and improve our world is if we are willing to stand up and stand out to be seen. Jesus says this in Matthew 5:16. It is our good deeds that people need to see and when they do we need to make sure that they aren’t seeing us but God. We don’t live lives of faith to make ourselves look good; we do it to improve the lives of others and to give glory to God. While at times our words and actions need to be visible so people can glorify God, there are also times when our words and actions need to be private, anonymous and silent. One of the important things about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is to make sure we always look at the larger context to understand more fully what Jesus is saying.
For example, here Jesus says that people need to see our good deeds so they can see God but later on in the sermon Jesus says, when you give, do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing. There are times when we need to act and work quietly and remain unseen and there are times when we need to allow our deeds and actions to be seen and celebrated so God is visible and the only way we will know when to be seen or unseen, heard or silent is to remain so close to God that God’s will gives shape to our actions.
So if being salt and light in our world means bringing hope, joy, peace and life, what, specifically, does this look like? What should we be saying and doing? I went back to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to try and find some answers and here is what I found. After Jesus called his followers to stand up and be salt and light he did not give them marching orders as to what social or political rules or regulations to support or change – he told them what kind of people to be. Jesus didn’t make statements about the law – he gave people direction on how to live and how to love.
For example, Jesus didn’t make comments on social laws pertaining to murder, adultery, divorce or entering into contracts with people and he didn’t speak about the regulations surrounding religious practices like prayer, giving and fasting – what Jesus did was tell people that how they lived and the attitudes they had was what really mattered. So in our divisive world today where social and political issues seem to overwhelm us and sides are being drawn and judgments are being made, what it means to be salt and light is having the right attitude and spirit as we live in this mix and mess.
So regardless of what side of the social or political aisle we are on, here is part of what it means to be salt and light – we need to watch our words and our attitudes toward those with whom we disagree. If we allow our disagreements with others to fill us with anger and cause us devalue the other side and call them names – we will be condemned – Matthew 5:22.
“Raca” was a term of contempt and “you fool” was saying that those people had no value or worth. We cannot be salt and light if we are filled with fear and anger. We cannot be salt and light if our words and rhetoric put others down. We cannot be salt and light and call people names or make judgments about people’s motives and attitudes. While it is important to work for whatever cause we feel is important, we lose our ability to bring peace, hope and life if our words, actions and attitudes are filled with judgment. On all sides of the political spectrum, we provide the most light when we speak words of truth with grace and work for peace and reconciliation.
Jesus shows us that our words and attitudes are important but then he goes on to show us that our actions need to back them up. Being salt and light means working for reconciliation and peace. Matthew 5:23-24. To be salt and light we need to strive to reconcile with one another. This doesn’t mean we just post more of our views or opinions on social media hoping to convince people that we are right and they are wrong, it means talking with those who may disagree with us. It means building relationships of mutual love and respect so we can listen and learn how to live in peace with one another. In a world that only seems to be able to yell at the other side and make assumptions and judgments about others – we are salt and light when we strive for relationship and understanding.
If we keep going through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we see that we are salt and light when we forgive, when are willing to give generously and we are willing to be humble and consider our own problems and sin before we point out the problems and sin of others. Jesus doesn’t call his followers to go out and make public statements about the issues of the day as much as Jesus calls his people to live in such a way that in a divided and hostile world his followers would be seen as being holy. Jesus wants us to sound and look different. This is the kind of salt and light our world still needs.
It doesn’t matter what our views are, what matters is how we share them, how we live with grace and peace and how we strive to love and care for others. We can hold a variety of political, social and economic views but how we share those views matters and how we see those with whom we disagree matters. What is in our heart is what matters and a heart of love is the salt and light the world needs.
Since today is Scout Sunday, let me use the scout law as an example of how we can be salt and light today. The scout law says: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
Let me just pull out half of those characters for us to consider:
courteous, friendly, kind, cheerful, reverent.
Think how different our world would be right now if we all embraced these values and allowed these characteristics to shape our thoughts, words and deeds. If we were courteous and friendly with those we meet and if we were kind and cheerful in our words spoken and shared on social media our world would be different. We would look different. What a light we would be if we were truly reverent or Godly in our attitude toward one another. God finds value and worth in all people and God treats people with dignity and respect and we need to have those same eyes and that same heart when it comes to how we view others. We cannot allow our political views to shape our hearts when it comes to seeing the value and worth of those on the other side. We cannot allow the divisive and destructive culture in which we live to shape our words and actions because if we do we lose our saltiness and our light goes out.
Let me close with an example of what this salt and light looks like today. On the weekend of the inauguration there were thousands or people in DC who held very different social and political views and much of what we saw in the media was divisive – crowds shouting at one another and making judgments about the other side. On Monday morning, a group of men from Texas, in town for the inauguration, stopped to eat at Busboys and Poets in Washington DC. While the restaurant’s clientele leans left, these men were treated with respect and seated at a table.
Their waitress had just taken part in the women’s march and said she was a little apprehensive about serving the men when she found out they were in town for the inauguration. While she said her prejudices made her reluctant – she didn’t refuse them service. She didn’t ask for them to be seated at another table or go to another restaurant – she served them and the group talked and shared.
One of the men was a dentist who commented about the beautiful smile that the woman had. They were courteous, kind, friendly, cheerful and reverent. After the men left, the waitress picked up the bill and found they had left her a $450 tip on a $72 bill with a message that said,
We may come from different cultures and may disagree on certain issues, but if everyone would share their smile and kindness like your beautiful smile, our country will come together as one people.
The woman served these men with dignity and the men offered respect. They were courteous and kind. Cheerful and helpful. On both sides, this is the kind of salt and light our world needs. Her act of service and kindness is the salt that will preserve and heal our nation and their words of thanks and gift of generosity is the light that brings us hope that our community and nation can be a better place for everyone.
The days to come are not going to be easy. We have heard that the political battles we see now may just be the beginning, so today we need to take seriously Jesus call to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. How we live and speak and how we think of and treat others does matter. Be the salt that preserves and the light that brings hope. If we will do this, we will stand out, we will be different, holy, and we will bring glory to God and life to the world.
A member of Faith Church shared this TED talk with me since it relates well to being salt and light in our world today. I would encourage you to take the time to watch and listen.
You are the Light of the world
1. Read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. List all the specific ways Jesus shows us how to be salt and light.
2. Choose one area from above to focus on this week. What specifically will you do to make a difference?
3. Evaluate your overall attitudes – words – actions. In which area do you need to reflect more of God’s light and love? What changes can you make this week?
4. Focus this week on being: courteous, friendly, kind, cheerful and reverent. Identify one activity where you can add this kind of salt to your life.
5. Look for opportunities to build a stronger relationship with someone with whom you disagree. How can your conversations bring peace and not division?
6. Look for positive and inspiring stories to share with others. Be a voice of hope and peace when it comes to posts on social media. Think twice before liking or sharing a comment to make sure it brings light and not darkness into the world.
Prayer for the week:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
(St. Francis of Asis)